As a woman who was lied to, as a woman who was gaslighted, as a woman who was controlled, as a woman who dealt with addictions in her marriage, I know a thing or two about trust being shattered and trusting needing to be rebuilt.
I will be speaking first briefly to the woman who has been hurt or betrayed. I need you to hear me loud and clear:
IT IS NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO SINGLEHANDEDLY RE-TRUST SOMEONE WHO HAS BROKEN YOUR TRUST.
It is your responsibility to both protect your heart and do all you can to keep it open and receptive to trust-rebuilding attempts though.
(And those two tasks are completely different tasks.)
I used to picture my first marriage as a brick wall we were building together. With each good thing, each kindness, each truth, each memory, we were stacking bricks on the wall. But then, a lie would be uncovered, for instance, and the wall would come tumbling down. This happened innumerable times, more times than I can recount. But here’s the thing. For years, I pictured the rebuilding of the wall with me crawling around the floor gathering bricks and slapping down mortar. ME. I was doing it.
But I wasn’t the one who kicked the wall down!
You cannot muster up trust out of thin air when you are dealing with someone who is untrustworthy. In fact, quite the opposite, it would be foolish to keep re-believing someone who has not shown themselves to be a person of integrity.
So, you pray and ask God to work in your heart, but you leave the trust rebuilding up to the betrayer. (This is not easy work, by the way.)
Now, to you, the person who has done the lying or betraying – breaking of the trust, I need you to hear me loud and clear:
IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO REBUILD TRUST WITH THE PERSON WHOSE TRUST YOU HAVE BROKEN.
It is NOT her job to just start trusting you again without cause, without seeing any changes.
I hear this ALL THE TIME. My husband said I should trust him already (a month or whatever after his affair). Umm, no. That’s not how it works.
Listen brother, I’m sure you’re in pain. Truly. I don't say that lightly. People who are whole and holy and healthy and unwounded don't go blowing up their lives and those the lives of those they love. And I know that hurt people hurt people. And trust me, I hope you get counseling to work through your issues, but in case no one has had the cajones to say this to you yet…
YOU WERE THE ONE WHO MESSED UP.
YOU WERE THE ONE WHO BROKE THE TRUST.
YOU ARE THE ONE WHO MUST FIX IT.
And here’s how I would suggest doing that.
First, you get before God and you tell him you are so very sorry for sinning against him and sinning against the woman you had committed your heart and life to.
Second, you tell your wife that you are so very sorry for hurting her. And BE SPECIFIC. OWN IT. LIST THINGS. Even if you think it’ll hurt her to hear it. Even if your pride is telling you to minimize. Do you want your wife back or not? I mean, really back? You might get her back in body at some point but if you have truly been broken by what you’ve done, you will want her back in heart and mind too. And to do that, you need to be honest and you need to lay down your stubborn pride.
Third, tell someone else. Yep, this part will SUCK. But it’s super important. It can be a pastor, a trusted friend, a counselor.
Fourth, and you’re going to hate this one, but too bad, you ask your precious wife what she needs from you to start to begin the process of trusting you again. And you better be willing to do whatever she asks.
Does she want to have all your passwords? Give them to her.
Does she want to see your phone at any time? You hand that thing over.
Does she want the computer in an open area of the home? Move that laptop to the center of the house.
Does she want you to stop golfing every Saturday until further notice to spend time with family? Put those clubs in the attic.
Does she want you to stop having lunch with that female co-worker? Start brown-bagging it, mister.
Does she want you to go to counseling? Call any counselor she wants and get yourself there.
Does she want you to meet with an accountability partner? Ask her who she has in mind then call that guy.
Does she want you to attend a recovery support group or rehab? Attend or check yourself in. Like, yesterday.
And don't make her initiate. Don't make her beg you to do these things. Don't make her set up your appointments. You do it. You're a grown man. Get your life back. Get your wife back.
The list goes on. What she says goes. Now, I don’t mean, if she tells you to berate yourself all day every day, you must do that.
It’s important that you not look at your wife as punishing you. Because she's not.
Instead, these are ways that are important to her heart so she can tangibly see that YOUR HEART is humble and willing and changing.
This isn’t punishment. These are natural consequences for bad behavior with the goal of restoration.
Also, how long do I have to do these things, you may ask? As long as she says so. Truly. And so help me, if you say to your wife even one time, “what, you don’t trust me yet??” after like a month or two, I’ll personally come to your house and ring your ever-lovin’ neck. Don't think I won't.
(Sidenote: you might be thinking, ‘this is coming from a scorned woman’. Think again. I’ve read MALE AUTHORS who have suggested this exact thing, such as Steve Arterburn and Henry Cloud.)
And then on top of all that, you try to win her back by serving her, praying for her, buying her gifts, writing her notes and loving the heck out of her, the thing you should have been doing all along.
What you need to understand: this isn’t a five-step miracle cure. You may have done so much damage that though she can forgive you, she might never be able to fully trust you. And you’ll both have to navigate that. But I cannot tell you what a sincere apology, genuine amends, and a willing, humble heart can do to a woman to woo her back. I've seen it happen. It can happen. You can do this. And then that will be your miracle.